This summer, 8-year-old Daniel Steciak and his twin brother, Eric, became outer space detectives.
As participants in Howard County Library's summer reading program: "Go Undercover With A Book!" the boys devoured 40 mystery and space adventure books, putting the program a few volumes closer to its pledged total of 30,000 books by Aug. 27.
"I read 'Star Trek' books and mystery books," said Daniel, who will be a fourth-grader at Glenelg Country School in the fall. "I read some adventure books."
The twins are among 6,766 county youngsters who had read 15,619 books as of Friday in the county library's summer mystery reading program, said Hope L. Chase, department head of children's services for the county library.
Hundreds of young readers signed contracts to read a certain number of books. Each purple contract, featuring a detective FTC mouse carrying a flashlight and magnifying glass, lists the child's name and signature, parents' signatures, clues, or categories of books, and the child's thumb prints at the bottom.
Students who reach their goals each receive a flashlight, a certificate and a letter addressed to the student's school acknowledging that the student completed the program.
Although mystery is the theme for this reading program, youngsters may read any of the library system's 64,000 children's books.
"They're free to read anything they want," Ms. Chase said of the program, a partnership between the library and Patuxent Publishing Co.
Ms. Chase said summer reading programs have been a big part of the library since at least 1977 when she arrived.
"It gives the kids some direction during the summer," she said, adding that the programs improve youngsters' reading skills. "It's a reason to come to the library."
At the central library earlier this week, Joe Kaufman's "Slimy, Creepy, Crawly Creatures" was one of 24 books at a display.
Nearby, Dione Mahoney, a library associate, gave the Steciak twins miniature flashlights, a green certificate and letters to take to their schools.
"I'll smuggle it into bed," Eric said of his flashlight. He said that reading "is a way you can relax when there's nothing else to do."
His brother had set aside a couple of hours each day to read.
"Readers are the kids who succeed in school," their mother, Jennifer Steciak, said.
Melissa Davis, 10, read 20 books in one week.
In the beginning, reading 20 books seemed impossible, she said.
"I thought I was only going to read eight [books]," Melissa said. "I thought it'd be a little harder."